the moment

Does Oppenheimer’s Oscars sweep herald a return to Hollywood’s macho ‘dad movie’ days?

Christopher Nolan’s nuclear biopic has been crowned as the definitive winner of this year’s awards season. The three-hour biopic is quintessentially ‘one for the guys’, writes Louis Chilton – and represents everything the Oscars have been trying for years to move away from

Monday 11 March 2024 09:07 GMT
Bombs for the boys: Cillian Murphy as the titular scientist in ‘Oppenheimer’
Bombs for the boys: Cillian Murphy as the titular scientist in ‘Oppenheimer’ (Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal )

After a compelling seven-win sweep at the Oscars, Christopher Nolan’s propulsive three-hour drama has been cemented as the darling of this year’s awards season, pipping competitors such as Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro and colourful doll-based comedy Barbie. There’s no doubt now that 2024 is indeed Oppenheimer’s year, and the film is a deserving victor. It’s a meaty, intelligent and wonderfully crafted piece of work – a career high for Nolan and its lead Cillian Murphy, who plays atomic bomb creator J Robert Oppenheimer. And yet, there’s something about the idea of an Oppenheimer win that feels strangely backwards-facing.

Oppenheimer, so the argument goes, is a film for men. Perhaps intensified by its strange and ubiquitous juxtaposition with the women-led Barbie, Nolan’s film has been scrutinised extensively through the lens of gender. No matter how reductive this assertion may be – that Nolan’s film is simply “one for the boys” – it’s hard to deny there’s a degree of truth to it. The few female roles that Oppenheimer does feature are hardly forefronted: Emily Blunt’s Kitty Oppenheimer never quite feels three-dimensional, and Florence Pugh makes the most of scant screentime as “other woman” Jean Tatlock. The roster of significant male characters, meanwhile, is deep and illustrious. Murphy fronts a cast that includes Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Jason Clarke, David Krumholtz, Rami Malek, Matthew Modine, Gary Oldman and Kenneth Branagh. Match this with Oppenheimer’s stereotypically male subject matter – bombs and the evils of war – and it’s easy to see why the film has been pigeonholed as a quintessential “dad movie”.

Golden Globes: Oppenheimer's Cillian Murphy accepts award with wife's lipstick on nose

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